AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am Preview, Picks & Analysis
ONE of the most iconic courses in the United States plays host to the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, with Jordan Spieth returning to California to defend his title. It is a tournament that world number one Dustin Johnson loves this event and the format, which sees the pros in company with a host of celebrities – it takes a special kind of player to do well here, with rounds taking the best part of six hours to complete.
Johnson won in 2009 and 2010, was runner-up in 2014 and finished third last year. The champion in 2011 was DA Points, in 2012 it was won by Phil Mickelson, in 2013 and 2015 by Brandt Snedeker, in 2014 by Jimmy Walker and in 2016 by Vaughn Taylor. These men all have one thing in common – not only are they world-class golfers, but they are also laidback characters. And that is the key to doing well here. You have to possess a great deal of patience because let’s just say that there antics of some of the celebrities are a trifle distracting.
Let’s look at Johnson for a minute. Having won here in 2010 he went into the final round of the US Open at the same venue later that same year with a three-shot lead, which he promptly blew after a nightmare start to his round. Then there was the 2011 US PGA Championship, where he came to the final hole requiring a par to win, only to ground his club in a bunker and incur a penalty. Earlier the same year, he hit a tee shot out of bounds during the final round of The Open while challenging Darren Clarke.
And then there was the 2015 US Open at Chambers Bay, where he three-putted the 18th green from nowhere to hand the title to Spieth. And, finally, at the HSBC Champions in Shanghai last year, Johnson was in complete control for 54 holes, only to see a final round of 77 end his chances.
But here’s the thing. Rather than dwelling on those nightmares, Johnson keeps bouncing back. Earlier in the season he went into the final round of the Sentry Tournament of Champions with a three-shot lead – it was the first time he had led since his collapse in China. He went on to win by eight shots. Asked afterwards if events in Shanghai had played on his mind, he replied: “I forgot about that the day after it happened.” He would be the first to admit that he is not the brightest light in the house but this may actually be his biggest asset. When he says that he doesn’t dwell on his past failures, Johnson is telling the truth.
So when he turns up at Pebble Beach, his failure at the 2010 US Open really does not enter his head. He simply adores the place and he also relishes playing with his amateur partner, Wayne Gretzky, the former ice hockey star who also happens to be his father-in-law.
Snedeker is also clearly a course specialist. Apart from his two victories, he finished fourth last year. The 37-year-old has won eight times on the PGA Tour, is a former FedEx Cup winner and has twice played in the Ryder Cup, and was a member of the American team that won so comfortably in 2016. He was the only American player to go undefeated in all three matches in which he played. All was well in his world until last year, when a mystery injury forced him out of the game for five months.
He ended up seeing 15 different doctors before finally being diagnosed with a lower sternum injury more commonly seen in athletes involved in a contact sports. He was told that he had two options – to have a metal plate inserted that would be attached to the upper and lower sternum (more commonly known as the breastbone) or to rest. There are never any guarantees with this type of surgery, so Snedeker opted for rest. He has admitted that there were times he wondered whether he would ever pick up a golf club again.
He didn’t pick up a club for nine weeks, and has now been given a new workout programme and a diet that helps to counteract the inflammation that had caused Snedeker so much discomfort. He can no longer eat sugar and has been forced to all but eliminate carbs from his diet. Instead, he has been forced to find a taste for raw vegetables.
“I am now eating a miserable, kind of boring diet to say the least,” he said . “As a guy who likes to eat food and likes to have fun, this has not been a great change.”
The injury initially flared up at the Travelers Championship in June. At The Open a month later, Snedeker was forced to withdraw after hitting a few shots on the practice ground where he was in pain just from breathing. Weeks of uncertainty followed as doctors debated the best way to treat the condition.
“Not knowing how or if I was going to recover was the toughest part,” he said. "I’ve had injuries before and there's always been a start?stop date. This is the first time where I had an injury where literally doctors are going, ‘I don't know, I can't tell you a date when you can get back to playing, we have to wait and see.’ That was probably the worst thing you can tell a golfer is just wait and see. Bit I can tell you that semi-retirement is not all it is cracked up to be. It’s been a long time and it’s fun to be back.”
Snedeker’s return came at the RSM Classic in November, where he finished in a tie for 29th place. He followed that up by partnering Bubba Watson in the QBE Shootout in December. He is one of the most popular players on tour among his peers, raising millions of dollars for charity through his foundation. There are no guarantees that he will be able to keep his condition under control, but every golf fan should be rooting for him and if there is a tournament that will bring out the best in him it is surely the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
Look out, too, for Rory McIlroy’s first appearance of the season on the PGA Tour. After finishing second and third in two outings on the European Tour, McIlroy has returned with his game in great shape. He is hitting the ball magnificently from the tee, although there are still some signs of fallibility on the greens. But you can be certain that he will be there or thereabouts on Sunday.
Dustin Johnson. Just adores this place
Brandt Snedeker. Fighting fit again
Jordan Spieth. Defending champion
Dustin Johnson. Would choose to play here every week if he could
Brandt Snedeker. Has suffered enough
Jordan Spieth. Missed the cut last week – that won’t happen again
Paul Casey. One of the world’s most consistent performers
Jason Day. He’s back!
Bryson DeChambeau. Does it his own way
Kevin Kisner. Slow-ish start to the season
Matt Kuchar. A machine
Rory McIlroy. Impossible to ignore
Phil Mickelson. Showed some great form in Phoenix
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